A recent public opinion poll (released Feb 24, 2015) showed a couple of very scary points. There is a lot about favored presidential contenders (though none had yet announced), and some not very surprising assessments of public opinion regarding other figures such as Netanhayu and GWBush.
However, a few items caught my eye in particular:
Q15 (Republicans) Do you believe in global warming or not?
Believe in global warming: 25%
Do not believe in global warming; 66%
Not sure: 10%
Q16 (Republicans) Do you believe in evolution or not?
Believe in evolution: 37%
Do not believe in evolution: 49%
Not sure: 13%
These are not surprising, but they are worrying. These numbers show an almost suicidal rejection of the realities of climate change, and an almost equally dogmatic rejection of science generally. Students brought up to hold these views will not be competitive in the job market here, and certainly not globally. Those who hold such views are at a significant disadvantage in terms of their core scientific literacy, or their understanding of the role of science in our lives, or as a tool for describing physical reality.
The thing is, science is not actually up for debate of this nature. Of course, science is constantly testing itself, challenging itself, and correcting itself where the evidence shows something we didn’t see before. But that’s something different, though it is a process the Right has exploited to make it seem as though science is, in fact, negotiable, subject to majority consensus, or something on which to vote. But carbon is simply carbon, no matter who likes it or who doesn’t. Hydrogen will have one proton, even if Congress or the Vatican or an Imamm or anyone else decide differently. Gravity has no respect for politics.
And at their core, the theories of evolution and climate change are just as fundamental. Ocean salinity doesn’t change based upon political declarations, and glaciers do not reappear when a talking head declares, with uneducated certainty, that global warming isn’t real. Both of these theories, in addition to being unalterable by mere decree, are vital to our survival. Yes, both. Entire fields like genetics, immune theory, even medicine generally, rely upon the understanding that organisms evolve in conjunction with their environments. But more salient perhaps, is the significance climate change has for our future. There is no dissent or disagreement or uncertainty among scientists; climate change is real, and we are causing it. Period. Full stop. Until we admit this fact, we won’t (and really, can’t) stop causing it. There are no bigger stakes attached to any issue in our times. And only 25% of republicans think this is real. The rest have stuck their fingers in their ears, and accepted the assurances of self-proclaimed “not a scientist” politicians that climate change isn’t real.
The response to the next question in the poll is perhaps even more alarming, because it’s not about rejecting physical reality, it’s about enshrining the right to not only reject physical reality, but the right to suppress anyone who does not also reject physical reality. In fact, it rejects pretty much anyone and everyone who doesn’t agree with the entire, anti-science, largely misogynistic, Randian, egocentric, ethnocentric worldview of today’s GOP. That question?
Q17 (Republicans) Would you support or oppose establishing Christianity as the national religion?
Support establishing Christianity as the national religion: 57%
Oppose establishing Christianity as the national religion: 30%
Not sure: 13%
Let that sink in a moment. Not even one third of Republicans, as polled nationally, think imposing a state religion is a bad idea. A few more aren’t sure if it’s a bad idea. This isn’t a question of the virtues or vices of Christianity; that’s a discussion for elsewhere. It’s a question of one simple phrase: “national religion.” In ANY nation, given ANY religion, this is simply a bad idea. Period. The founding fathers knew this, and saw the havoc state religion wreaked in Europe. We see the havoc it wreaks in the Middle East today.
Hypothetically, how might such a thing work, exactly? What would instituting a national religion mean in concrete terms? Would those of other faiths or no faith need permits, exemptions, badges? Would they be subject to a higher tax rate, as Islam dictates of Jews and Christians? Whose version of Christianity would the GOP like to establish as the national religion? Acrimony between the hundreds of denominations is often just as bitter as that between fully different faiths. What of science, of history, of cold hard fact; where those counter the claims of religion, would they be outlawed, as they are in parts of the Muslim world? Would the United States try to outlaw reality?
We have come close already. The House recently passed a bill that “forbids scientific experts from participating in “advisory activities” that either directly or indirectly involve their own work.” In other words, this literally says anyone who has actual knowledge about an issue cannot advise the government on that issue. A case in point (and the proximate reason for the bill) is that climate scientists are banned from consulting on legislation dealing with climate science. Several states have enacted bans on the use of the words “climate change.” Yet, oddly, the weather patterns in those states remain abnormal.
In the same way, the removal of factual sex ed, shockingly, doesn’t remove the sex drive from teenagers. Abstinence-only states have the highest rates of STDs and teen pregnancy. Anti-vaxx communities have the highest rates of previously controlled disease outbreaks. States that are the most aggressive in shutting down women’s health care are showing higher rates of HIV infection, breast cancer, and other maladies once prevented by Planned Parenthood and similar organizations. It seems banning facts doesn’t change them. Sticking our heads in the sand only invites us to get our asses kicked.
We are (and have long celebrated the fact), a diverse, pluralistic, and mixed society, strongly founded in science and reason. Yet a growing percentage of our population wishes to reject all of that. The GOP has shown increasingly racist overtones, has supported and even enacted legislation allowing and protecting discrimination, marginalization of minorities and women. It has actively undermined public education and pushed the poor further into poverty. All this has been done in direct contradiction to the factual evidence that shows these are bad ideas that don’t work. And the general push among the GOP is overwhelmingly towards the demolition of the wall between church and state, and the incorporation of religion into government. It is not outrageous to consider that an empowered GOP, with a republican president, could in fact move in this direction.
Consider then, the shape of such a nation, arrayed under a state religion, which rejects, by fiat, the realities of the psychical world. Science and history along with other disciplines are shaped by what agrees with the creed of the state religion, and the facts are lost. Not only will we lose our technological capabilities and our medical knowledge, but we will lose our past. “Who controls the past,” Orwell famously wrote, “controls the future.” How would such a nation face the increasingly technologically based challenges of that future? Having destroyed our ecosystems, depleted or poisoned our water, weakened our population by increasingly favoring the whims of the ultra-rich over the wellbeing of the poor, and rendered the next-generation scientifically and culturally illiterate, what will that future look like? Is it a future we want? Is this a future we want to leave our children?
Find the Poll here: http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/2015/PPP_Release_National_22415.pdf